Thursday, 5 November 2009

Farmer ploughs ahead in greenhouse gas war

Sun Herald
Sunday 1/11/2009 Page: 40

A BATTLE is raging beneath the bobbing heads of Ian Linklater's wheat crop in the red loamy soils of Gol Gol. In this break-your-heart farming land near the Murray River north of Mildura, the enemies are drought, nutrient depletion, salt and rising costs. The battle's unlikely heroes are Mr Linklater and his 400-horsepower, oxygen-sucking, diesel guzzling, carbon-spewing tractor.

International debate rages over the cost and plausibility of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power stations by pumping carbon underground. But Mr Linklater is literally ploughing ahead, injecting his tractor's fossil fuel exhaust fumes directly into the ground where they enhance the biochemical interaction between plants and soil microbes. And it seems his home-grown version of carbon sequestration - introduced in 2007 - is getting results, with this year's crop, aided by better rainfall, his best since 2001. "It might not seem that emissions from one tractor could do a lot but per hectare it emits 1100 kilos of carbon," he said.

Adapting methods developed by Canadian farmer Gary Lewis of Bio-Agtive Emissions Technology, Mr Linklater spent $20,000 customising equipment that cools the tractor's fumes to 30 degrees then expels them into soil as gas fertiliser when he sows his crop. His trials - which are being replicated in Canada, Britain and South Africa - are gaining worldwide attention and are the focus of scientific research. "When I heard about it I listened and the science of it seemed to make sense but with fertiliser costs at about $1200 to $1500 per tonne, the economics of it got me into gear," Mr Linklater said.

It would have cost him $500,000 in phosphorous and nitrogen fertilisers to prepare 3845 hectares for planting. But in the two years since he and his sons began trialling the technique, no fertiliser has been applied. The saving is enough to wipe a healthy chunk off the debt he has racked up, like many drought-stricken farmers, through years of poor rainfall and low wheat prices. Political debate continues about the inclusion of agriculture in Australia's carbon emissions trading scheme but Mr Linklater said farmers had nothing to fear from carbon pollution reduction programs.

The Federal Opposition last week proposed amendments removing agricultural methane emissions from an ETS while allowing farmers to make money through carbon credits earned by planting trees and storing more carbon in soil. The government has delayed a decision on agriculture - which accounts for 18% of the nation's greenhouse gases - until 2013